“Deal Test Site: 100 Years of History” mini-exhibit
Bounded by Deal Road, Whalepond Road, and Dow Ave., the 208 acres we know today as Joe Palaia Park were once the Deal Test Site, an internationally renowned research facility.
The same buildings that park visitors pass by today once held scientists from AT&T’s Western Electric research arm (later known as Bell Labs) working on telecommunication breakthroughs that made history. Later in those same buildings, the U.S. Army Signal Corps ran satellite tracking operations that attracted scientists from around the world.
The exhibit traces the site’s history from prehistoric times to today, focusing on the 100 years since AT&T chose rural Ocean Township as an ideal spot to conduct its experiments in wireless communications.
The AT&T years
As World War I ended, AT&T looked to extend telephone service beyond the reach of its telephone wires, specifically to ships at sea. It searched for and found the perfect location for a research laboratory. In 1919, it purchased the 63-acre Foxhurst Farm along Whalepond Road in Ocean. By the end of the year, three 165’ towers were in place and the experiments in wireless communications began.
Landmark work in radio, short-wave, and micro microwave communication and radar followed.
In the early 1920's, Deal Test Site’s experimental radio station is believed to have broadcast music for entertainment for the first time anywhere. As part of the research, wicker push-chairs on the Asbury Park boardwalk were equipped with receivers to pick up signals.
In the winter of 1920-1921, Deal Test Site completed another first. A ship in the Atlantic connected by radio to Deal, and by wire from Deal to California, and by radio again to Catalina Island in the Pacific.
In the mid-1920's, the world’s first high-power short-wave amplifiers were built on the site. A transmitter at Deal was used in the first commercial short-wave radio telephone link with England.
In 1929, the site was expanded to its current 208 acres and three new 175’ towers were constructed to support short-wave antennae. (Four of the total six early towers remain. The fifth tower in the park today is a modern cell phone installation.)
In the 1930's and 1940's, the research that produced the microwave relay stations that became the backbone of the long distance telephone network was conducted at Deal. During World War II, scientists at the site turned their attention to radar that could be carried aboard planes and ships.
After the War, Deal became increasingly overshadowed by other AT&T research centers. In 1953, AT&T closed operations and sold the property. There was talk of developing the land for housing, but in the end the U.S. Army Signal Corps leased the facility as an outpost of its Ft. Monmouth (Eatontown) operations.
Under the Signal Corps
As the U.S. and U.S.S.R. raced to launch the first artificial satellite into space, the Signal Corps at Deal Test Site had a mission: Develop the capability to track the highly anticipated “man-made moons.”
On Oct. 4, 1957, the U.S.S.R. stunned the world with the successful launch of its Sputnik. The specialized antennae at Deal Test Site went into action. They had the unique capability to pinpoint the source of radio signals being broadcast from the Russian satellite. Around the clock, engineers (who called themselves the “Royal Order of Sputnik Chasers”) worked without overtime pay to detect and record Sputnik’s signals.
The Signal Corps continued 24/7 satellite tracking from the site well into the next decade. Remnants remain of the concrete pads where massive dish antennae monitored all launches from Cape Canaveral. In the early 1960's, Deal participated in the Courier satellite experiments in transatlantic communication. From Deal, the Courier satellite relayed the first-ever fax transmission of a photograph.
By the early 1970's, NASA had created its own satellite tracking facilities, and in 1973, Deal Test Site was closed. Again, the prospect of developing the land for housing (more than 300 homes) loomed. A dedicated group of volunteers led the campaign to turn the historic site, instead, into parkland.
Purchased for parkland
In 1973, with a matching state Green Aces grant, the Township purchased the 208 acres for $1.9 million. And for the past 45 years, the park has served the public as a natural and recreational resource.
In 1997, Deal Test Site was renamed in honor of Joe Palaia, the Township’s mayor at the time of the park’s acquisition and later a state senator who helped secure funding for the park’s development.
The Permanent Exhibits in the Our Town Gallery
The Pre-Colonial Era
This area of New Jersey was originally occupied by the Lenni-Lenape tribe (also known as the Delaware to Europeans) a part of the Algonquin nation. The Lenni-Lenape traveled with the seasons, making full use of the area resources. During the spring they planted gardens around their permanent settlements. In the summer, they went “down the shore” to catch oysters and clams and stay cool. In the fall, they would move back to their village and harvest their crops. In the winter, they hunted deer and other animals.
Some of the other tribes scorned them for their peaceful ways. The Iroquois called them "The Old Women." They frequently were the intermediaries in resolving problems within the nation.
The central area of New Jersey was occupied by the Unami (“the people down the river”) sub-tribe.
See History of the Township of Ocean
Wanamassa is the area of the Township of Ocean in the south-east corner of the Township, along the area of Deal Lake. It is made up of land originally sold to Gavin Drummond by the local chiefs of the Lenni-Lenape tribe. According to local legend, Chiefs Wanamassa, Wallammassekaman and Waywinotunce sold the land for practically nothing because Drummond was married to the Lenape princess, Nissima (daughter of Wanamassa). The three chiefs signing the deed which indicated that Drummond purchased the land for one gun, five coats, one kettle, and two pounds of gun powder.
As the City of Asbury Park began developing, the opposite shore of Deal Lake was being developed as larger homes and estates, with easy access to Asbury Park. Eventually, as bridges over Deal Lake were erected, Wanamassa became a “bedroom” community of Asbury Park, with many people working in Asbury Park, or taking the train from Asbury Park, north to work in places such as Newark or New York.
See Historic Wanamassa
Oakhurst is the area of the Township of Ocean in the north-east corner of the Township, bordering Deal, Elberon (a section of the City of Long Branch) and West Long Branch. It was originally formed as the “business district” of the area, around the Brinley Grist Mill, that once sat on Whalepond Brook, on the border that today is between the Township of Ocean and West Long Branch.
During the late 1800's, mansion houses were built in the areas that today border Deal and Elberon, to enjoy this fine seaside area of the Jersey Shore. Many of these fine older homes still exist.
See Historic Oakhurst
Wayside is the area of the Township of Ocean in the western portion of the Township. Cold Indian Springs, located in the sand hills of Wayside, was the encampment of the Lenni-Lenape tribe when they came to the Shore in the summer.
From the colonial era onward, Wayside was a farming community, and was also the location of a stage coach stop for travelers riding between the ports in the northern part of the County (Oceanport today) and the port at Manasquan, as well as the iron foundry at Allaire.
Wayside remained a rural farming community until the 1960's when development began turning the many farms into apartment and residential communities, found there today.
See Historic Wayside
Deal Test Site
An area of the town, once part of the Woolley farm, was purchased by Western Electric (later Bell Laboratories, and then Lucent Technologies) as a research and development site. Later the property was sold to the United States Army, for use in developing communications technology.
See Deal Test Site